This newspaper article describes increasing adoption of the daVinci surgical robot in the state of Minnesota.
It provides useful specifics to demonstrate the increased use. It also discusses two incidents in which the device appears to have been used successfully and appropriately.
But the article suffers from several key flaws:
The article says the daVinci devices have "a million dollar price tag." But it does not say whether any of this cost is passed along to insurers and patients in the form of higher costs.
The story also mentions the possibility that hospital costs will be reduced but does not provide any data to back it up.
Nonetheless, at least it nodded in the direction of costs.
The report does not summarize findings of benefits and harms. It also allows a surgeon to say it has the benefit of reducing hospital time by half without pressing for some detail or source.
The story does not mention negative outcomes that may be associated with the daVinci machines. It does not indicate whether complication rates are higher, lower or equal.
The story also fails to mention the potential harm if the machine is used to justify a hospital’s investment or support surgical revenues regardless of whether it’s the best use for a particular patient.
The article mentions briefly that there is little evidence to show that the daVinci improves outcomes. Some details are necessary in a story centered on its increasing adoption.
The only evidence given to support the daVinci’s use is a physician’s statement that he’s "seen enough cases to believe it’s making a difference." No evidence cited to defend the claim that use of the device reduces hospital costs by half.
Two anecdotes are provided that forecast successful outcomes.
The article focuses on an extraordinary application of the daVinci device–in a highly trained athlete whose disease and lifestyle led to a decision to use the machine. This unusual story may create the impression that the robot is a life-saving necessity for hospitals and patients.
Nonethless, the story did not exaggerate the condition being treated.
The article quotes two physicians, both of whom use the machine–and work at hospitals that have invested in the machines.
The reporter should have talked to at least one surgeon who has declined to use the device, and one independent researcher with no conflict of interest who could summarize the findings of safety and efficacy.
Finally, there is some federal data about negative outcomes with the device–including at least one unnecessary death early in the device’s development–that should have been drawn on.
In the two cases cited, the article at least briefly describes what treatment without the machines would have been like. In each case, it’s open-heart surgery, which carries higher risks in the patients described.
But it would have been valuable to know where robot-assisted surgery falls among treatment choices–including non-robot-assisted minimally invasive surgeries and non-surgical options–for someone found with clogged coronary arteries, for instance.
The article does a good job of specifying how many daVinci surgery robots are available in Minnesota–and which facilities have them.
The story makes no false claims of novelty. It does a good job of describing the state of the machines’ use in the paper’s circulation area.
There does not appear to be a press release associated with this report.